Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10, 1893 -- World's Fair Cold Storage Building Fire Claims 15 Lives



July 10, 1893 -- Halfway through the greatest event in the city’s history, tragedy occurs on this day.  A day later the lead in the Chicago Daily Tribune captures the depth of the tragedy as the paper reports, “The World’s Fair received a baptism of fire and blood yesterday afternoon, the Cold-Storage Building proving a funeral pyre for twelve firemen, twenty-four persons receiving serious injuries.”  The cold storage building, the location of the tragedy, was erected by the directors of the Hercules Iron Works and sat on the east side of Stony Island Avenue just south of the Sixty-Fourth Street entrance to the fairgrounds.  The building, designed to resemble a Moorish palace, was five stories high and included a skating rink on the top floor.  There were four towers on each corner with a central tower, encasing the boiler flue, the central tower rising 191 feet above street level.  A promenade encircled the central tower about 70 feet below its inaccessible top.  The flue that ran up this central tower had been a subject of considerable debate since it veered so dangerously away from original specifications and had been subject to minor fires that had flared up in June, causing the cancellation of most of the insurance policies on the building.  At 1:30 p.m. an alarm went out when a small fire was spotted at the top of the flue stack in the tower’s crowning cupola, an area that was supposed to have been made of wrought iron instead of wood and lined with asbestos.  About a dozen firemen climbed to the gallery around the tower, nailing boards to the structure to get closer to the fire.  As they climbed, a puff of white smoke at the roof level of the warehouse preceded flames that cut off the escape of the fourteen firefighters trapped on the narrow ledge surrounding the tower.   As 50,000 fair-goers watched, the trapped men began to jump, one by one, leaping 60 feet onto the burning main roof.  The paper described the horrific scene, “Strong men turned their heads away and women fainted by the score.  The crowd was so dense that escape was impossible.  Down on his knees in the center of the plot surrounding the Pennsylvania railroad exhibit went a well-dressed man, and with hands uplifted he prayed to the Almighty to avert the awful calamity that seemed imminent.  As he prayed tears streamed from his eyes and his words were lost in the sobs and groans of those around him.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1893]  Twelve brave firefighters lost their lives on that July day, along with three civilians.    


July 10, 1925 – Building Commissioner Frank Doherty gives approval for the proposed 40-story Jewelers’ Building, today’s 35 East Wacker, recommending that Corporation Counsel F. X. Busch issue the necessary building permits as quickly as possible.  There is one major hang-up in getting the construction started – Fire Commissioner Joseph Connery wants a delay in construction until considerable modification is made in a scheme that would see 572 cars parking in the lower levels of the structure.  Connery believes that nothing will eliminate the hazards attendant to a huge parking garage in a skyscraper.  The Corporation Counsel seems ready to take the chance, saying, “Recent surveys indicate that an average of 3,000 automobiles are parked daily in loop streets.  Five or six other such buildings with equal facilities would nearly solve the parking problem and certainly relieve street congestion.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1925]  

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